When responding to a medical call at a south Mobile County group home Tuesday afternoon, deputies say they found several elderly veterans of the U.S. military who were unsupervised, underfed and living in “deplorable,” “disgusting” conditions.
According to Mobile County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Paul Burch, deputies responded to a group home at 11050 Lakeview Lane in Grand Bay after one of the six men living there flagged down a motorist and asked them to call for medical assistance. He described the conditions inside as “deplorable.”
“The condition of these veterans was horrible,” he said. “Some of them told officers they had been there several months, others said they’d been there years. One gentleman said he thought he’d been there three or four years but didn’t know how he got there. Not all of them were what I would call cognisant.”
According to Burch, one resident was found in a “soiled diaper” and another’s feet had turned black, possibly from lack of blood circulation. He could no longer walk. Two of the other men had fallen and were unable to get up, which is why one of the residents had initially gone out to find help.
“Detectives found the home to be unclean. [There was] no access to a landline or cell phones and no access to food due to all the cabinets and refrigerators having padlocks on them,” MCSO said in a statement. “The residents could not recall the last time they saw or spoke to a caregiver.”
All six of the men were transported to a local hospital for medical evaluation and treatment. They were identified as veterans by MCSO, though no information was released about their identity or former branches of services. Deputies arrested Donny Owens, 49, who owns the home on Lakeview Lane with his wife, Tilena Owens, according to Mobile County Revenue Commission property tax records.
Owens was taken to Mobile Metro Jail Wednesday on six counts of elder abuse, including one first-degree charge. Tilena Owens, who according to state records is a licensed registered nurse, has not been charged with any crime.
Speaking to Lagniappe, Burch said investigators believe Owens owns more than one “group home” in south Mobile County. Tax records indicate he and his wife own several properties in the Grand Bay-Wilmer area, but there are no public records showing them licensed as group home operators.
Records maintained by the Alabama Secretary of State show Tilena Owens as the incorporator of a limited liability company called Square One Life Management that shares an address with the Owens’ home. Though it’s still listed as active, there’s little information available online about what the company does.
The Owens’ home address is also where deputies recovered dozens of bottles of medications and medical supplies they believe had been delivered through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Burch said the dates on the medications varied and there was a concern residents hadn’t been recieving them in a timely manner.
The Alabama Department of Mental Health (ADMH) regulates group homes for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, but its publicly available reports do not indicate any of the Owens’ properties in Mobile County are sites that participate in the state’s “Community Provider” program.
There are hundreds of those homes throughout Mobile County, but there are also unregulated group homes often billed as boarding homes. These homes typically operate off the books and are funded by the federal and state benefits residents receive. Lagniappe has reported those kinds of facilities before.
Though MCSO’s investigation is still in its early stages, Burch said he believes that was the situation at the home owned by Owens on Lakeview Lane. He noted that some of the residents in the home were receiving financial benefits and medication from the VA.
“It appears, based on statements from the veterans we spoke with, that they basically had to sign over their financial benefits to these folks, and some of them don’t even know how much money they were supposed to be getting,” Burch added. “We did seize a lot of documents at the home, but it’s going to take some time to go through them all. We’re also looking into some of the other homes [Owens] owns.”
In a statement Wednesday, MCSO asked anyone with additional information about the home on Lakeview Lane or any other homes owned by Owens to contact its investigators at 251-574-8633. Because there are federal benefits involved, Burch indicated federal authorities may join the investigation as well.
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